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Buddhadharma : Spri 2013
SPRING 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 61 from experience and try to create a protective shield through holding themselves in a rigid and contracted way. These two styles of relating to experience are once again expressions of grasping and rejection. They indicate that we don’t know how to be with our experience in an easy, enjoy- able, and intelligent way—in a practice way. During a long-term retreat where a small group of us practiced in separate cabins on the same retreat land, I found myself dreading our occasional group practice sessions and trying to avoid my fellow retreatants at the water tap. Whenever someone walked past me, I would feel my mind and body tighten. One day I saw someone I didn’t recognize walking toward me on the path and I jumped into the bushes. My teacher, who happened to be standing nearby, playfully teased me, saying, “That isn’t a dignified way for a practitioner to act!” I knew he was right. Having to grapple with my confusion around boundaries eventually compelled me to ask some very deep and essential questions about practice: Where is the true boundary of practice? Where is the threshold and how do I step across it? Sometimes we mistakenly think of meditation practice as staying within the protective container of a physical environment, such as a retreat, or following a set schedule or precepts. While these act as boundaries for our practice, there is a more subtle boundary that has to do with how we keep our minds oriented toward practice. People often talk about the challenges of leaving retreat. They say that when they re-enter their ordinary lives, their mind no longer feels protected by or connected to their meditation practice. This is because we mistake the external boundary for the practice itself, when in fact the boundary of practice is not something outside of us, but has to do with how we relate to the rich experience of our inner and outer worlds. The physical boundary and precepts that define the structure of our retreat serve as indispensable supports for retreat practice. They keep us within the sane confines of our intention, which is to find our true resting place beyond grasping and rejec- tion. But they are not the practice itself. If we think meditating means just applying a technique, we may never experience the liberation that genuine practice can bring, and we may conclude that practice doesn’t work. Value all experience If practice is not merely a technique or some- thing that can be identified by physical boundar- ies and short passing experiences, then how do we know when we are practicing and when we’re not? I think we need to look at the fundamen- tal attitude we bring to our experience. Are we valuing all experience? Or are we succumbing to our habitual tendencies to brace against what we don’t like and grasp at what we find pleasurable? Practice provides an opportunity to bear wit- ness to such lapses without judging them. Rather than becoming discouraged, we can appreciate the potency of our ability to discern: What is practice? What isn’t practice? This is a crucial part of our inquiry and the beginning of respond- ing to our experience with nonaggression. Our ability to accept our humanness with all its struggles, insights, and confusions increases our capacity to behold both the beauty and suf- fering we encounter in the world. This gives rise to fearlessness, compassion, insight, and an appreciation both of ourselves and of oth- ers. Because we feel less intimidated by our mind and world, we can walk through life with grace and composure. Our relationship with the world around us is less reactive and more responsive. To be in sane relationship with our experi- ence, our life, our world, we need to learn how to digest experience—to let life touch us, nourish us, and move through us rather than reacting to it with so much fixation and preference. This means we need to find a way of being that is beyond grasping and rejection. Only then can we enjoy our humanness in all its fullness. And isn’t that the point of meditation? JASMINEPEMA